'God's hand on the Mother City'
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By Bronwynne Jooste
Roads were closed, traffic held up, and a passerby would have guessed Newlands cricket stadium was hosting one of the biggest sporting events of the year.
But the thousands who filled sold-out Sahara Park this weekend were there for one man only - farmer-turned-Christian preacher Angus Buchan.
About 60 000 people attended the rallies on Friday night and again on Saturday night.
Zambian-born Buchan is the Durban farmer whose story of faith and overcoming adversity was the subject of the award-winning film Faith Like Potatoes.
His brand of preaching is ultra-conservative and he has been known to say that prayer has cured homosexuality, illness and depression.
Buchan is touring through South Africa to Windhoek in Namibia, dispensing his no-nonsense approach to Christianity and morality in a series of sold-out rallies.
His unconventional approach to preaching is proving to be popular with thousands, and when Buchan speaks, frequently switching to Zulu, people listen.
This weekend people started queueing at the gates from as early as noon, although the rallies only began in the evening. On Friday night, the start was delayed when 25 buses were locked in traffic at the Koeberg interchange.
When Buchan eventually took the stage, calling for echoes of "Amen", the audience drowned out the sounds of the screeching train passing behind the stadium.
Hands were raised to the sky, some in the audience crying, others smiling, all eyes following the man on the stage.
Cowboy hat firmly on head, Buchan hinted that a divine hand had provided the sudden burst of good weather.
"I've been watching the news before I came to Cape Town. There were floods and storms, buildings were being destroyed. And I was coming to a cricket stadium in the open air. Then faith kicked in. Some people say it's a coincidence; no it's a God-incidence," said Buchan to thunderous applause.
He later added: "Mark my words, it's going to start raining here after Sunday."
Buchan recalled his journey of faith. He and his wife Jill first converted in 1979, establishing Shalom ministries a year later. All was well until 1989, when Buchan says he realised he needed to switch lanes.
"I was working towards my own game. The saying goes, ''n Boer maak 'n plan'. But my plans never worked. So many of us, our governments, want to follow our own game plans. I'm not here tonight because it's Angus's plan, I'm here because it's God's for Cape Town."
He stressed that without God's firm guidance in his life, he remained over-worked and tired. Even Parliament should look to God for help with the country's problems.
"No political party, no dialogue, no cultural group can help our country. Only God can save South Africa."
Yet he was optimistic about the country's future, saying it was going through its biggest "revival".
"People read the papers and watch the TV and they become depressed and negative. They say the country's going to the dogs, and there is no hope. I'm telling you now there is not another nation where thousands come to a cricket stadium on a Friday night to hear the word of God. He is in control of this country and waiting for you and me to be counted."
Buchan subscribes to a conservative moral code, making it clear that homosexuality, divorce and pre-marital sex cannot be condoned.
In a press conference just after his talk, Buchan explained his stance, adding that many gay and lesbian people had become heterosexual through prayer.
"I cannot ever agree that homosexuality is right, I cannot bless it. I love them though, but they need help. We have prayed for them and God has changed their hearts."
He also explained that the reason for his male-only Mighty Men conferences was so that men could learn better how to protect their wives, and the meetings were not an indication that he thought less of women.
Buchan, who comes across as down to earth and amiable, admitted that many of his opinions were not politically correct.
"I stick to the word (of God), and that's controversial. But I cannot compromise. That would mean tearing pages out of the Bible. I don't condemn people who do wrong. I was by no means an angel, but you repent, stop what you are doing and don't do it again."
When questioned on the healing power of prayer, and whether there was any actual evidence of this, Buchan stressed he would not make a "mockery of God".
"I haven't come all this way to fool these people. This is not a spectacle. My only wish is that people walk out of here with gratification and hope."
The crowd, most with blankets which they donated to charity after the event, were clearly enthralled by Buchan.
Television presenter and doctor Michael Mol said it was Buchan's blind faith which set him apart from many other religious speakers.
"He is simple and no-nonsense. He is faith in action, and that's what draws people to him. Here is someone who really takes a risk on God," said Mol.
Josie McGoldrick from Tamboerskloof was amazed at the turnout.
"As a Christian it's important for me to hear his story. And for one person to attract so many people, more than a pop star, it's just phenomenal."
Conrad and Esti Koorts from Milnerton said when Buchan spoke he never made his audience feel inadequate.
"He doesn't make out like he is the special person; there are people like that, and they are not about God. He shows that he gets angry, he is not perfect but he's just so honest," said Esti.
"One word that sums it up for me, he is just real," said Conrad.
Marlushca Moller, who came all the way from Worcester, said it was "awesome" that Buchan had managed to get people so excited about their faith.
"He made people believe, now everyone believes."
But not everyone was convinced. Jeremy Dyer from Newlands said while he believed in God, he did not conform to any type of religion.
"I watched the movie and he seemed sincere, which is one in a million when it comes to these types.
"I thought I'd give him a chance. I have my own mind, so I want to evaluate what he says for myself before I make my mind up."